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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Brad DeLong makes peace with Tom Ricks first by telling people to listen to him on the radio and now in this interesting post. I thought I had something useful to say about it, but I don't so I won't pollute Brad's comment thread with my comment which I dump here.

I remember reading Hicks's explanation years ago written by Michael Ignatieff (sp? google wont show it to me) about how reporters didn't report the truth on Iraq because of their "professionalism" which requires them to present views that range from the main stream of the Democratic party to the [main stream of the Republican party] loony right.

Evidently Kucinic and and the love one another caucus aren't main stream enough to count (Drew agrees and so do I) and Harkin etc aren't either. This is, as has been noted by many people, absolutely aweful. If the press is obliged to accept the conventional wisdom (of politicians most ordinary people weren't on board yet) then they are worthless.

Hicks actually puts it a different way. He says his editors said there was no need to inform a debate about whether Iraq should be invaded, because it was going to happen anyway, so the debate didn't matter. The slogan appears to be "don't speak truth to power". This is also what Drumheller claims he was told when he expressed doubts about curve ball. This definitely has nothing to do with finding and reporting the truth. Also it shows (again) that the Post's editors do not see their job as informing their readers but rather as influencing politicians. Only powerful people count. If they agree the matter is decided. The public doesn't matter.

Also interesting is the dread Kurtz line about "objective". I think that Auros puts it exactly right "Kurtz has -- like most media figures -- confused "objective" and "impartial". If one has a liking for -- a partiality towards -- actual, factual truth, then it is difficult to remain impartial in the face of lies and stupidity." Yes that's it. "Fair" and "objective" are used to mean "balanced" and "impartial". It is not enough to refrain from drawing conclusions without proof, it is necessary to draw no conclusions even if there is proof. This reminds me of Stanley Fish who wrote that it was unacceptable for a professor to advocate any theory (including one assumes the germ theory of diseases).

However my point, such as it is, is about Ricks' reply. He interprets the question as one about being frozen out by the defence department, or maybe he interprets as an accusation that he is not supporting the troops. Now, given the awefulness of the question answering the question that Kurtz should have asked might be a diplomatic way to avoid accepting Kurtz's premise, but I think that there is a third meaning of "objective" as in "one should be objective" = "one should reach no conclusions even with proof beyond reasonable doubt" = "one should maintain access". It seems to me that they have become confused leaving reporters vulnerable to the Rovian technique of giving access only to people who would write "opinions about shape of earth differ."

Hmmm access. Once I mentioned this as a case of failure of the invisible hand (which guides the marketplace of ideas as well as the marketplace). Typically the selfish aim to be a top reporter is useful, because typically the way to be a top reporter is to report interesting and important news. However, some reporters (and newspapers) are prominent because they get the top leaks. Thus when the administration of the day wants to get a theme out but doesn't want their names attached, they leak to reporters from a few top newspapers. This makes the newspapers and reporters important to people trying to figure out what is going on in the White House. However, the reporters have not done anything socially useful. The White House will get its line out and will leak to another reporter if they are mad at those who used to get the good leaks. The effort to get the leaks serves the selfish aim of the reporter who wants to be important but it adds nothing to the information available to readers. Reporters who put a pro-administration spin on the leaks they get are serving their own interests at the expense of the public interest.

Now it should be possible to change this, because a lot of what reporters are after is bragging rights. The condemnation of source buffing reporting on the web might alleviate the problem. On the other hand, the proper use of carrots and sticks is to whack those who misbehave and give carrots when they reform. The Brad and Billmon approach has been to remind the reformed of their past misdeads. This does not creat useful incentives, so I am very glad that Brad has made peace with Ricks.


brad has left a new comment on your post "8/08/2006 08:51:00 AM":

I think this is insightful and interesting...

Auros has left a new comment on your post "8/08/2006 08:51:00 AM":

A fantastic post. And really, I'm not just saying that because I appreciate the citation. :-)

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